John Lennon once accused Rod Stewart of plagiarising an iconic Beatles song
We are dipping into the Far Out vault to look back at what could have been a potential bust-up between two of rock’s most cherished singers. Much like any British band in the early 1960s, The Beatles actually gained their initial fame through a series of cover versions. The Fab Four, similarly to The Rolling Stones, leant heavily on the rock and roll spewing out from The States and regurgitated it as something perfectly formed for the British customer.
Unlike the Stones, however, The Beatles quickly moved on to writing their own songs—but that wouldn’t stop them paying homages to some of their rocking icons like Chuck Berry. McCartney once admitted that he had taken Berry’s bassline for ‘I’m Talking About You’ and used it for The Beatles own ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, for example. McCartney confessed: “I played exactly the same notes as he did and it fit our number perfectly. When I tell people about it, I find few of them believe me.” The idea of sharing material, therefore, wasn’t a new one but it wouldn’t save Rod Stewart from avoidingJohn Lennon’s wrath.
It wouldn’t be the last time Berry and The Beatles would cross paths. After the Fab Four shared their song ‘Come Together’ Lennon was forced to change a lyric following legal battering from Berry’s publishers. It was clearly a moment that hardened Lennon as he once grew very frustrated when, as he saw it, his work was taken. His work, allegedly, was taken by none other than Rod Stewart in 1976 as, by Lennon’s reckoning, the singer adapted one of The Beatles final tracks into his own iconic song ‘Killing of Georgie’.
When talking about one of The Beatles’ classic tracks, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’, the bespectacled Beatle wasn’t shy about sharing his thoughts on Stewart’s pick up of the sound. “By the way,” Lennon later said to David Sheff, “Rod Stewart turned that into ‘[Georgie] don’t go-o-o.’ That’s one the publishers never noticed.”
It didn’t seem to bother Lennon though, seemingly he understood where Stewart was coming from: “Why didn’t he just sing ‘Don’t Let Me Down’? The same reason I don’t sing other people’s stuff: because you don’t get paid.” It’s a smart assessment from a man who has made a career from the pinching of other people’s material.
In 2016, Stewart responded to the claims via The Guardian, using his cheeky happy persona and perhaps the fact that he was then 40 years down the road from the song’s release: “It does sound like it,” he said. “Nothing wrong with a good steal.” It’s a cheeky remark but one we imagine Lennon would have let Stewart away with.
“I’m sure if you look back to the ’60s, you’d find other songs with those three chords and that melody line.” It’s a fair assessment but considering both Lennon’s lift of Berry and George Harrison’s lift from The Chiffons’ ‘He’s So Fine’ are far more slight than this, perhaps they had the knives out for The Beatles.